June 2019


This is the basic text of my Presidential Address at this morning’s Leeds Diocesan Synod in Harrogate.

I am very grateful to my colleagues – and especially Bishop Paul to whom I delegated my responsibilities during my absence – for granting me the space to take some sabbatical leave earlier this year. I spent just under a week in Sudan at the invitation of the UK Embassy in Khartoum meeting leaders of civil society, church, academics and diplomats before addressing a day conference on Freedom of Religion convened by the Sudanese Government. I then went on to the Friedrich-Schiller University in Jena, Germany, before having a week’s holiday with my wife and friends in Basel. From there I spent around six weeks at a university in Tennessee, USA, and came home for the beginning of Holy Week. I used the time to sleep, read, think, meet people and pray.

Being in Germany and the USA at this time was particularly instructive. Not only does submersion into a different culture and language enable us to learn how God and the world look through different eyes, but it also allows the distance from which to reappraise one’s own culture. What is clear (as if it wasn’t before) is that the world is going through rapid change. The old accepted orders are being challenged and it’s only just begun. The social media wars about truth, reality and meaning are ferocious on both sides of the Atlantic, with truth the focus of severe stress.

I have been in London all week, on duty in the House of Lords. Not only did I manage to quote Thomas the Tank Engine in a debate on Wednesday, but I also witnessed some of the protests against Donald Trump during his state visit. The President tweeted repeatedly about the large, welcoming crowds greeting him in London … when there appeared to be no one there. He denied saying things about the Duchess of Sussex that exist on tape. He can claim the sky is blue one minute and then flip to a strong assertion that the sky is green with purple stripes, and reality has little bearing on the matter. It is the epitome of the “it is true for me” mentality that has relativized even truth into a commodity or weapon.

But, the President’s relationship with the truth is just a symptom of something deeper and more challenging. How are we to distinguish between truth and falsehood when those who mediate what is going on and attempt to interpret it – the media – are so distrusted? How can multimillionaire establishment politicians rail at ‘establishment elites’ and not be laughed out of court? How can people hear what they want to hear and ignore facts about the real world? Who is to be trusted in this brave new world? And what will happen when the new world turns out not to be brave at all, but, rather, to be a massive con?

These questions – a small sample – suggest that the Western world – including, but not exclusively the United Kingdom – faces a serious readjustment and a cultural shock. If we suspect the veracity of anything that comes from the mouth of someone to whom we are in principle ideologically opposed, how are we to establish some common repository of trust, integrity or honesty?

The Christian response to this is to love the light. Light can prove to be very uncomfortable, especially when we prefer it to illuminate other people and not ourselves. But, walking in the light means starting by paying attention to our own pretences and failures, limited vision and “partial affections” as the Book of Common Prayer puts it. But, it also means having the courage to keep telling the truth even when no one wants to hear it. If we learn anything from the prophets, surely this is it.

Today we will spend a short time talking together about Brexit. Not about whether we approve of it or wish it would go away or want to “get it done” (which it won’t be for another decade or more). Our conversation is not a rehearsal of arguments or passions or preferences. The premise is that we are where we are – however we got here – and that the process has unearthed passions and behaviours in our country that have come upon us with a violent surprise. Anyone can critique what has happened, but it gets harder when we try to work out what to do in response. What is the way forward?

The Church of England has a responsibility, at every level, to create spaces for conversation, honest listening, and constructive relating. I am hesitating to use the word ‘reconciliation’ as it has, I suspect, become over-used in recent debates. It cannot be a way of avoiding conflict or wishing everything could be nice again. It must involve enabling people to think clearly, discuss openly, listen and speak graciously, consider future relationships wisely and model grown-up handling of conflict. So, the question before us is to consider creatively and generously how our churches can offer such space and facilitate such conversation.

We need to be realistic in this. I have a book being published in August called ‘Freedom is Coming’. Taking us through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany in company with Isaiah 40-55, it asks questions about the real experience of exiles being comforted by the promise that they will soon leave exile in Babylon and go home. The problem, of course, is that ‘home’ now means different things to different people. Some of the exiles will have romanticised ‘home’, fossilising it in some collective memory of the past – remember how the Israelites, only five minutes out of four centuries of captivity in Egypt, start whingeing about the lack of food and predictability and wish they were back in Egypt? It’s the same dynamic. But, those who had not been exiled will find their ‘home’ being impacted by the returning exiles who will want ‘home’ to be how it was in their memory of the past. You can imagine the problems of cohabitation this phenomenon will throw up in the months and years to come as competing visions strive to live alongside each other in a small space.

If you want to think further about some of these things before August, I am doing a seminar at Bradford Cathedral tomorrow at 2.30pm (entitled ‘Freedom is Coming’) and also the Harold Wilson Memorial Lecture at the University of Huddersfield on Tuesday 9 July (entitled ‘The Will of the People?’).

The serious challenge for the Church is how to model a confident humility at a time of change and fragmentation. But, our job today is not to identify grand solutions – unless, of course, you have some – but, rather, to explore together the bits we can attend to and steps we can take in order to shine light and be faithful to God’s call. We are blessed in this diocese by having partnership links that enable us – compel us – to talk with and look through the eyes of those whose context, history and experience are different from ours. The value of this has been seen recently in our support of our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka and Sudan, but also at a recent meeting between the bishops in Leeds and those in Hannover, Germany.

Three items on our agenda offer the beginning of a clue as to what some of this might look like.

First, we have promulged Amending Canon 38 which, ravishingly, creates a new ecumenical canon B43. Dry as this sounds, it allows more engagement with ecumenical partners in common worship and service. Not a free-for-all, but, rather, a wider welcome in Anglican buildings and services. This matters. In this context I want to note the impending retirement of Dr Roger Walton as the West Yorkshire District Chair of the Methodist Church and to express our gratitude for his immense contribution to Christian mission in our region. He has been an Honorary Ecumenical Canon of Bradford Cathedral and I have deep respect for him and the contribution he has made to the Church of England in West Yorkshire. He has been a good – critical in the best sense – friend and we shall be sad to see him go into retirement. This sadness is all the stronger because Roger’s wife, Marion, died recently and Roger will now retire alone to Derbyshire. He goes with our prayers, love and best wishes.

Secondly, we will consider the Five Guiding Principles that the bishops signed up to prior to the ordination of women as bishops in the Church of England. These stress the need for ‘mutual flourishing’ of those who approve and those who disapprove of the move to ordain women as priests and bishops. Of course, phrases are easier to bandy around than they are to inhabit. Mutual flourishing involves what St Paul, in his letter to the Christians at Philippi, enjoins as looking “not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (2:4) – which has more to do with the demands of love than the assertion of rights. We are looking at these principles today because the Independent Examiner’s report on the appointment of the Bishop of Sheffield (Philip North) and his subsequent withdrawal exposed the fact that the Principles were primarily only known to those in petitioning parishes and not more widely across the dioceses. Today we shall draw wider attention to the Principles and I encourage you to communicate with the parishes and deaneries to which you belong.

The third example (of modelling a confident humility) might sound a little forced, but it is not. Our young diocese is committed – and our agreed strategy reinforces this – to building up clergy and lay people in discipleship, ministry and service. To this end the Digital Learning Platform has been developed and all clergy and lay people are encouraged to sign up to it. Hundreds have, but there is much further to go. This platform opens up vast possibilities for conversation, mutual learning and cross-fertilisation across a large and diverse diocese. This platform enables us to take responsibility for our own growth and development as Christian disciples, and I strongly commend it.

As you know, our aspirations for this diocese are great, but they cannot be realised if they are not resourced. Our accounting and budgeting are vital, and I am grateful for all the work done at Church House by our finance team and administrators under Geoff Park and Debbie Child. We continue to face challenges with the Parish Share and these are being addressed. But, there is a straight line between what comes in and what can go out.

Having returned from sabbatical, five years into the life of this young diocese and my ministry as the Bishop of Leeds, I am enthusiastic about the next five years. We have gifted clergy and lay leaders, we have wonderful cities, towns and rural areas, we have dedicated Christians in all walks of life in this wonderful part of the world, and we serve a God who is faithful to those whom he calls into service. I continue to pray that, in all our various areas of life and outreach, from the national to the local and the individual, we might be faithful to the call of God who is faithful and whose service is perfect freedom.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2:

Only four years, almost to the day, after tens of thousands of allied troops had sat on a beach at Dunkirk, being bombed and strafed and hoping for evacuation, 6 June 1944 saw many hundreds of the same men preparing to fight on the European mainland again. Imagine their feelings – about to face the guns once more. That’s courage.

Like young Albert Kings of the 1st Worcester Regiment as his troop ship pulls out of Newhaven Docks, thinking of his wife of less than three months and wondering if she will soon be a widow. Later he wrote: “I tried to look ahead to better times, but I knew it would only be brought about by our efforts. I was determined to do my best.”

What strikes me, reading the stories of D-Day again, 75 years on, is that these guys didn’t have the luxury of offering opinions or passing distant judgment on the whole operation or those who had planned it. Whatever their feelings, whatever their fears, whatever their thoughts, they got into boats and sought to land on enemy territory in France. They weren’t given opt-outs or asked to fill out a feedback form.

The point is that these men – they were mostly men – looked out across the water into the unknown and committed themselves wholly to the mission.

Now, I really admire them for this. They knew they might never come back, but they went. They imagined the cost. And they went.

But, this notion of commitment didn’t just emerge from anywhere. This sacrifice was rooted in the Hebrew and Christian notion that belief is not simply about accepting a doctrine about God or an ideology; no, to believe was to commit yourself, body, mind and spirit, to what you believed (however feebly or tentatively) to be true or right. Today belief is largely seen as something going on in your head, but that is a bloodless understanding.

Albert Kings trusted that, as he played his part, others would play theirs. They were interdependent and had to trust, knowing the mission might also fail.

I don’t have to invade France today. But, I might consider whether it’s braver to observe from a distance or get stuck in when it comes to helping and loving my neighbour.

This is the basic text of a speech in the House of Lords today.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: QSD on the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail Engaging the Next Generation: Young People and Heritage Railways.

My Lords, while congratulating the noble lord, Lord Faulkner, on securing this debate, I must confess to some surprise at standing to speak in it. I have little knowledge or experience of Heritage Railways despite having had such a beast going through the village where I was for eight years a vicar in Rothley, Leicestershire, and now having several in the Diocese of Leeds. I am not proud of my ignorance, but engineering never quite got me… And I fully accept that this probably makes me a rarity among clergy in the Church of England.

But, I do see the import of this report and fully endorse what this debate seeks to achieve.

Heritage Railways seem to hit two nails on the head in a changing Britain where social capital and the development of skills in young people need some investment at all levels: the two nails are volunteering and skills development in team contexts. We know from history and experience that if you want to get commitment out of children and young people that will shape their adult engagement in the wider world, start them young. Volunteering in a selfish age has to become part of the DNA of people from a young age.

So, raising the lower limit for young people to develop as volunteers, learning skills in basic civil engineering, team work, track-laying, and so on, is not something to be celebrated. We know that teenage volunteers often train for roles such as Assistant Guards, Station Assistants, and Locomotive Cleaners – gaining skills and experience that will shape them for the future. The culture of safety is essential, but also beneficial to those growing up in it. These young people get to work with the public, learn timekeeping, craft skills (including woodwork, painting, metalwork, hedging, land management, and so on). In a school system that wants to measure results in a limited way, surely these learnings have to be gained outside formal education, and such railway environments offer something unique. And young people need to start before they get into GCSEs and exams and the pressures that we all know about.

Under-16s have an opportunity here to gain practical and human skills through volunteering in a safety-conscious environment that has purpose and gives satisfaction. Working in teams, across all age groups, teaches responsibility and helps maturity.

My Lords, the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act of 1920 was surely once useful and necessary. But, it is not the right instrument for today’s world. Our young people do not now need to be protected from industrial exploitation as they did in the past. Surely it is time to lift the current uncertainty over the implementation of this law in order that young people can continue to access and benefit from the kind of life experience that Heritage Railways are uniquely placed to offer.

In Thomas Comes to Breakfast Thomas the Tank Engine came out of the repair shop and was not happy. He said: “It’s nice to feel mended again, but they took so many of my old parts away and put new ones in, that I’m not sure whether I’m really me or another engine.” Imagine being the teenager who has the opportunity to cause Thomas such serious existential angst! My Lords, we need to encourage our young people.